Longtime Wichita pizza restaurant setup ‘not sustainable,’ so owner is making big changes

Avivo Brick Oven Pizzeria owner David Hensley said if he could go back to 2021 when he bought the NewMarket Square restaurant, he’d do a few things differently.

But he can’t, he said, so he’s doing those things now.

Hensley, who bought the restaurant two and a half years ago and partnered with his daughter and son-in-law to run it, is about to make some big changes to the way Avivo operates and to its physical setup.

Instead of the full-service model the restaurant has followed during his tenure — and during most of its 18-years of existence — Avivo is about to adopt a quick-service model where people order their pizzas at the counter and pick them up when they’re ready.

Starting on Sunday, Hensley will also start making physical alterations to the restaurant. He plans to demolish the physical bar, which at the moment is fitted with several bar stools, as well as a nearby counter with sinks. In their place, he’ll build a divider wall that will direct people where to line up to order. He’ll also build a new counter where people can place their orders.

Diners will share their phone numbers when they order, and when their food is ready, they’ll be able to pick it up at the counter, “just like you would at Panera bread,” Hensley said.

“We started brainstorming what we could do to try to make things a little bit better because right now, the way we’re operating, it’s just not sustainable,” Hensley said. “We have a high amount of cost and not enough volume of sales.”

He’s getting rid of rolled silverware and the plates the restaurant uses now and instead will serve food on tin pizza platters. In the back of the restaurant, he’ll also build a beverage station where people can fill their own drinks and grab napkins and silverware after they order.

Though he’s demolishing the bar, he’ll still serve alcohol, though all the drinks will be canned or bottled, including beer, wine and cocktails.

Avivo is about to abandon its full-service model and will ask customers to order at the counter.
Avivo is about to abandon its full-service model and will ask customers to order at the counter.

Avivo, which is at 2441 N. Maize Road, will keep its normal hours through Saturday, then demolition will start Sunday and continue Monday — two days when the restaurant is closed anyway. Hensely said he’ll likely have to keep the restaurant closed through Wednesday while contractors paint and build the new interior pieces. He hopes he can reopen on Thursday.

The look and feel of the restaurant will be lighter and more vibrant and high-energy, Hensley said, and he hopes it will attract a younger demographic.

Hensley said he loves his longtime customers and he wants them to keep coming, but something has to change. Lunch crowds are too light, and the customers he does get tend to order food then linger. That isn’t a money-making model in NewMarket Square.

“We need to increase sales, and I think a lot of people don’t come here because they see this as full service and think that it takes too long to get in and out,” he said. “And so we want to change that perspective and that paradigm.”

Hensley said Avivo will no longer take reservations. It will still serve a few appetizers, salads and calzones, and Hensley also plans to add homemade cannoli to his dessert menu, which already features cheesecake.

If the changes go over well with customers, he said, he may also add some booth seating.

“We want to keep all our existing customers. We love them,” he said. “We just need to start attracting other types of customers that haven’t been coming in and really spread the word about the type of environment that we have here.”

Gambino’s franchisee Tony Suellentrop originally opened Avivo in late 2005 with plans to turn it into a franchise. But in 2014, he sold it to local lawyer and developer Abdul Arif, saying that Gambino’s and other demands were taking up too much of his time. Hensley bought it from Arif.